I had full plans to write one of those "mera bharat mahaan", steeped-in-patriotism type of post for the republic day. And i just might some day...but today is not it. And here is why.
On the occasion of our nation's 62nd republic day, the family decided to go to the nearby temple town of vrindavan. Religious sentiments to be evoked, you would think, NOT patriotic ones. Keep reading.
The outskirts or the entry of vrindavan could pass off as the outskirts of any big city in the country. the roads are wide, there are new apartment buildings, with a whole small town kind of ambience. Very earthy, in a sense. There is the ISKCON temple right at the entry, which as anyone who has ever visited an ISKCON temple would tell you, is a very well maintained, "oozing of money" place and overall a very pretty looking complex. The fragrance of roses is overpowering (in a nice way) and the temple is such that it invites you inside.
We went to the Rang ji temple first, in a fatfati type auto. The temple was old, and wouldn't get brownie points for maintenance of the temple structure, but the complex was nice and huge and nothing really alarmed the senses. All was well up till now.
Then came the reason why I was inspired to write this post- the Banke Bihari temple. The auto dropped us at the end of a seemingly endless maze of small galis and we were instructed to walk through those to get the main temple. And walk we did. I don't think I am going to forget those 10 minutes of walking down to the temple, in a looooong time. The reason, in one word- filthy.
Now, I am not really much of a "cleanliness" freak or 'snob' when it comes to travelling. As in, of course i like perfectly clean and hygienic conditions, and all that...but i think im pretty ok with adjusting to not so clean environments. And having travelled quite a bit in India, i would say i have seen a wide variety of conditions, so nothing can really affect me too much. Or so i thought.
The route to the banke bihari mandir was easily, by far, the filthiest condition i have EVER seen. For the past one week since I got back, I have been trying to explain to people the exact vision, and no words have been able to justify that experience. There were pigs, there were people doing their "business", there were food stalls and the garbage was all over the place- all in a short distance of 200-300 metres. After that hell-ish walk, we reached the temple, practically got killed in a stampede (the topic of another post perhaps), and walked back through the same route to our auto. It was a relief to see normal roads, and 'civilization' again. But i couldn't get over those streets. And melodramatic as it may sound, it haunts me. Not the dirt, or the fact that a place of religion and faith was located amongst such filth- although that did bother me tremendously.
The thing which haunts me is that vrindavan, in its entirety, represented precisely what was wrong with this country we call motherland. We pay so much attention to the outer appearances of our cities and towns, but give a damn to what they really are on the inside. We build high rises, and fancy residential areas, and swanky malls filled with all the brands known to mankind. But that's not us! That is just us, trying hard to be like the rich nations, trying to ignore our real issues, our real problems. The Delhi government built state-of-the-art beautiful stadiums during the CWG, but hid the slums and the makeshift houses of construction workers by planting HUGE billboards in front of them. And then promptly removed them once the 'guests' were gone. And this is right in the capital of the largest democracy of the world, a so-called developing nation. To use an extremely superficial analogy, its like a fat person trying to hide their weight by dressing in the right colours and fits. It would work to give a thin appearance for a while, but eventually, the weight will show.
People in the cities would look at all the world rankings of poverty, human development, and wonder why we rank so low. Why, despite "sooooo much of economic growth and blah blah" do we fall lower in all these indices, year after year? It is because our policy makers, lack a collective integrity. Rather, as a society we lack a sense of integrity, a sense of duty. Things like corruption, "adjust kar le yaar", "manage ho jaayega", "koi farak nahin padta"...they are part of our DNA.
And unless we change our DNA, unless we do something drastic, the cities will keep getting richer, and more posh. But the streets of small town India would remain the same.